A new report released Monday by a government watchdog reveals veterans are still waiting incredibly long times for health care.
The Government Accountability Office report sampled about 180 veterans newly enrolled for primary health at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
What the watchdog found was appalling.
When GAO conducted the review, 60 of the 180 veterans had not been seen by any doctors. The 120 veterans who did see doctors had to undergo wait times of anywhere from 22 to 71 days.
“These time frames were impacted by limited appointment availability and weaknesses in medical center scheduling practices, which contributed to unnecessary delays,” the report notes.
The Veterans Health Administration has had a difficult time even tracking access to care, mostly because of “data weaknesses and the lack of a comprehensive scheduling policy.”
GAO noted this lack of scheduling policy is a violation of federal internal control standards — agencies are supposed to have concrete data standards.
The report even hints of waitlist manipulation, but prefers to refer to the practice as “ongoing scheduling errors.” Schedulers, like in many VA hospitals across the country, were changing preferred dates listed by veterans to dates that were available in the system. This happened in three of the six medical centers examined by GAO.
Schedulers changed dates following two methods. First, they would cancel appointments and then reschedule them, but instead of maintaining the original preferred date, they used a new preferred date, in order to minimize the appearance of a long wait.
The second method was that veterans’ preferred wait times were simply re-coded and equated with whatever time slot was available. (RELATED: Interactive: Take a Ride On VA’s Bad Bosses Merry-Go-Round)
“We also found in our review of medical records, that of 120 veterans who saw providers, 65 veterans, or 54 percent, had appointments with a zero-day wait time recorded in the scheduling system,” the report stated. “VHA officials indicated that appointments with wait times of zero days are a potential indicator of scheduling errors.”
Officials told GAO the errors were not the result of conscious manipulation, but rather due to a simple error in training.
“Officials attributed these errors to confusion by schedulers, resulting from the lack of an updated standardized scheduling policy,” GAO said in the report. “These errors continue to affect the reliability of wait-time data used for oversight, which makes it more difficult to effectively oversee newly enrolled veterans’ access to primary care.”
Concerned Veterans for America blasted the report as yet another example of VA incompetence.
“This report shines a light on the VA’s failure to deliver timely care to veterans and its refusal to be honest about how long those veterans are being forced to wait for that care,” Concerned Veterans for America Press Secretary John Cooper told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Instead of relying on statistical gimmicks that cast the department in a better light, the VA should embrace true accountability measures and support reforms that make the veteran the ultimate decision maker on his or her care choices, not federal bureaucrats.”
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